Hale Appleman, Summer Bishil / Eric Milner, Syfy

Not every episode of The Magicians pushes the narrative forward. From the lengthy “previously on” that ran before the episode, it seemed like quite a lot would come out of this episode, but what progress is made happens only at the very end, and the work that takes us there doesn’t end up feeling that vital.

That’s not to say it’s all a slog, though. At this point, most of what happens on this show is happening at a consistently high quality. The acting, the writing, and even the set designs are contributing to making this one of the better shows running right now. And even on an episode that doesn’t totally work, like this one, there are parts that still make it worthwhile. Namely, everything to do with Kady.

Even on a show that you like, there are going to be moments that really rise above the rest. The scene where Quentin made the mental institution version of all his friends sing “Shake It Off” to summon Penny to his dreams in the first season is one of them. Kady busting down a door and punching an evil lady in the face is another. Writing things like this all the time is undoubtedly very tempting—it’s just so satisfying watching someone get their just desserts. And the fact that we know Kady will save the day somehow makes it even more fun to watch how it happens. Can’t use magic? Not a problem.

But it’s too bad that the rest of the episode doesn’t live up to that moment of sheer badassery. Quentin’s mission with Alice’s parents is such a convoluted way to reveal that she’s still a niffin, and magically trapped with him. Bringing those characters back eventually makes sense—we’re living out Alice’s revenge fantasies—but it doesn’t make spending time with them any fun. The whole point of them is that they suck. And the concept is inherently designed to have no conclusion. Alice wants her parents to bask in their failure. The big reveal brings up all sorts of interesting questions about whether Quentin has any control over her, whether he could release her like he released his demon, how far she can travel away from him, but instead of tangling with that, we’re waiting another episode to see what it means.

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The Fillorian troubles, meanwhile, are still perpetually the second or third most interesting thing in any given episode. It’s just a little hard to care about the geopolitical struggles of this place. The palace sets have a goofy anonymity to them (what sets this fantasy country apart from any other one?) that makes sense, given the meta nature of everything Fillory, but it also makes it hard to invest in what’s going on there, especially given that it’s often less life or death than the other stories. And the plot twist of Margo sleeping with the jerk Prince Ess, who she hates, after he insults her sexual prowess is so hoary. Margo getting more to do is a good development, since she’s a series regular who’s often trapped into supporting whatever Eliot might be doing, but this storyline is a little disappointing for her. Not only are there still some unpleasant issues for Ess (the Barney Stinson method of lying your way into sex is not actually OK), but now she’s hastily leading a country into war because she’s mad at a lying lover? The character can seem frivolous, especially in comparison to everyone else on this show struggling with deep painful issues, and this doesn’t help.

The most positive part of the Fillorian troubles is that we finally get a little bit of a hint about what’s going on with Eliot and Fen. There’s some actual fondness there. And we get some confirmation that he’s actually bi, or something like it, instead of a gay man forcing himself to have sex with a woman. Certainly, his actions have been suggesting that all season, but there are times when subtext doesn’t quite cut it as much as having the character flat out say it. And speaking of Margo, we’re due for an interaction between her and Fen about all of this. She doesn’t take too kindly to people messing with Eliot.

Finally, we have Penny, the walking plot twist. While the wink towards his purpose in this episode is funny, it doesn’t totally make up for marooning him. It’s the perpetual problem with the character, who’s too often hamstrung by not officially being part of the best friends squad. Can he rejoin them soon, in a more lasting way? Or at least get a regular co-star?

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Stray observations

  • While doing some minor IMDbing for this episode, I learned that Judith Hoag, who plays Alice’s mother, was April O’Neil in the 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie.
  • OK, quick bets on who Reynard’s other kid will turn out to be? We don’t really have any 40ish characters, do we?
  • Did they name this episode “The Cock Barrens” just to mess with all of the sites that list out episode titles?
  • Follow-up question to the previous: Would it be possible to learn what the interaction was like with whoever they had to run their dick map by before it got on TV? It’s quite the dick map.
  • And finally: “There must be some more dongs.”
  • “Prince. Ess. Oh my god, fuck your parents, dude.”
  • How did Quentin get back to Fillory, and how did Julia and Kady get to the west coast that quickly?
  • Did everyone see Olivia Taylor Dudley’s name back in the opening credits? Right after Jason Ralph and Stella Maeve. I wish they had brought her back a different way, but I’m glad she’s not off the show, nonetheless.
  • I was torn between a B and B- minus on this one. I bumped it down to a minus mainly because the rest of the season has been so strong, but I’m willing to be convinced that it was more B material.

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